RESPONSE TO A SEDEVACANTIST
John C. Pontrello
January 9, 2019
Sedevacantist blogger Steve Speray recently took aim at me and my article “Devolution of the Papacy” on his blog. Steve is an apologist for the Sedevacantists and an author on these subjects. I know of Steve from my Sedevacantist days and enjoyed reading his writings in defense of Sedevacantism. Although I don’t know him personally, I believe he is a good guy who feels passionately about the subject at hand. Nevertheless, Steve attacked me and my work and I decided to respond. Among other things,Steve claims that I don't understand the papacy. Let's see if that is true. I believe what I have to say will benefit honest seekers of the right path in a confusing time. Steve’s statements are copied below. The full dialogue where they were originally posted can be found on his website.
Steve Speray's statements as they appear on his blog:
Thank you for sending me the link. First off, Billot’s explanation of devolution doesn’t undermine the papacy. Pontrello doesn’t understand the papacy or the theologians on the papacy, which might explain why he rejects the Catholic Church.
He states “the Diocese of Rome IS the Catholic Church.” The papacy and the Diocese of Rome are two entirely different things. The papacy was in Avignon for a brief time. Rome can fall and has fallen because there’s no pope. But the papacy, which is the office of Peter, can’t fail and will never fail. Therefore, his statement is false.
You don’t equate the church at Rome with the papacy. Pontrello even takes it a step further by implying that the college of cardinals are the Church, too. The pope and the cardinals are only part of the Church, but they aren’t the Church themselves. If they were, then we have no Catholic Church for sedevacantists to belong to, but that’s obviously not the case. The Foundation is Christ. Christ built his Church on Peter, not as a private person, but one holding an office. The office can’t fail, but it’s possible that one holding the office could, which is why we have saints and theologians explaining what happens if a pope ever becomes a heretic. The office becomes empty because a heretic can’t be pope.
The papacy can never be destroyed. A long interregnum is not a destruction of the papacy, nor is the destruction of the college of cardinals because Peter has successors by divine right (Vatican I) and no church legislation can prohibit a divine right. We have many popes in history without a college of cardinals. This pretty much ends Pontrello’s argument.
Pontrello has completely shown that he doesn’t understand the Church or the papacy at all. The fact that he wrote an entire book about something he doesn’t understand is astounding, but not surprising. Salza and Siscoe did one, too.
The See of Rome is the papacy, why would I disagree with it? The diocese in Rome is not the papacy. See the difference? When a pope dies, all those in charge in Rome can apostatize as they have done. The pope is the head of Rome and the whole Church. As long as there is a pope, the indefectibility of the church in Rome is assured.
Not a problem at all. The Church of Rome can’t defect if there’s a pope. She is the Mother of all other churches when there’s a pope. The Pope is the key here. The Catholic Encyclopedia is clear about it. Catholic theology is also clear about it. Saints and Catholic theologians have even told us that Rome will lose the faith at the end of time. The dogma of the Church is that the Catholic Church as a whole can never defect.
I would like to add that the Catholic Encyclopedia is not a Church document. It does have errors in it. You could never say the CE says this, therefore, Catholicism has a problem. The problem would be with the CE, not the Church.
The first thing that leaps off the page when I read Steve’s comments is his confusion with terminology. For example:
Steve 1: “You don’t equate the church at Rome with the papacy.”
Steve 2: “The See of Rome is the papacy…”
Steve believes that the “church at Rome” is not the “see of Rome” but that “see of Rome” is “the papacy.” He’s wrong on both counts. According to canon law, the following titles: “The Church of Rome”, “the diocese of Rome”, “the see of Peter”, “the Apostolic See”, “the Holy Roman Church”, and “the Holy See” are interchangeable terms. With this clarification we see that because Church at Rome = See of Rome, his first statement precludes his second. His 2nd statement “The See of Rome is the papacy…” is also wrong. The see of Rome is not the papacy.
To be fair, this subject can be confusing for a lot of people so I will try to break it down. “See of Rome” / “Holy See” refers to the church’s “seat of government” and is most equated with an actual territory / location. “Office of Peter” is most equated with the bishop of Rome’s primacy of jurisdiction and authority. “The Papacy” is the whole system of Church governance that includes the Holy See, Bishop of Rome, and Peter’s office as constituent parts.
It is true that the definition of the papacy is often abbreviated as the "office of Peter", but the following definitions provide better information:
Papacy = ecclesiastical system in which the pope as successor of St. Peter and Vicar of Jesus Christ governs the Catholic Church as its supreme head. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11451b.htm
Papacy. A term applied to the office and jurisdiction of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ on earth; and also to the papal authority viewed as a religious and social force in history since the beginning of the Christian era. It generally refers to the system of ecclesiastical government in the Catholic Church headed by the Pope. (Etym. Latin papa, father.) http://www.therealpresence.org/cgi-bin/getdefinition.pl
While we can correctly refer to the papacy as the office of Peter, the papacy is essentially the Catholic Church’s system of governance. There is a reason it is defined as a system. There is also a reason why heretics and schismatics prefer abbreviated definitions for complex theological terms. Both will become clear in a moment.
A careful study of the First Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ reveals that this system is comprised of multiple parts, including the Roman see. Therefore, the see of Rome is not the papacy per se; it’s an essential component of the system. Why in the world would the diocese of Rome be considered an essential part of the system of papacy? Because the Roman Church dogmatically teaches that Peter’s primacy (another essential component of the system of papacy) is permanently bound to it. While it could have been established that popes should pass off Peter’s office from hand to hand, the Roman Church wanted Rome dogmatized in the papacy and did so. Therefore, in the system of papacy, it is not the person who gives primacy to the see but rather the see that gives primacy to the person.
Whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole church. ~ Vatican Council I Pastor Aeternus
It should be clear then that nobody becomes Vicar of Christ without Rome. Most Catholics know this by instinct even if they can’t express it in the same words. Otherwise, men like David Bawden and Francis Schuckardt might have been accepted as popes by a larger segment of the traditional Catholic population. But it is precisely because these men never held the primacy that we can know them instantly as fakes. It should also be clear that any organization that claims to be the true Roman Catholic Church must have Rome and not just in theory. This is where Sedevacantists run into big-time problems. Sedevacantists don’t have Rome. Why? Because Rome defected. Yeah, that's what it's called when a "divinely instituted" church government system - the very foundation of that Church- falls into heresy and apostasy and implements contradictory changes in its doctrines, disciplines, and liturgy by way of a General Council. Give the Sedevacantists’ credit that they recognize Rome’s defection and disavow the Holy See instead of capitulating but their problems remain in that they still require the papacy in order to stay in business. To solve that problem they must separate the office from its foundation. I’ll say more on this as I move along.
Steve disagrees with my article “Devolution of the Papacy.” In that article, I asserted that the theologians’ teaching of the possibility of the complete annihilation of the Holy See reveals the papacy as a false foundation of Christ’s Church. Steve rejects my point because the survival of his theory rests on the notion that the office of the papacy could be separated from its base. You see, by eliminating Rome the office could free-float and wind up anywhere such as Bob & Fred’s trailer park, David Bawden’s ranch, or Frank Schuchardt’s sex, drug & prayer compound in Spokane. This is the kind of disastrous situation the Church took very specific measures to avert by way of a General Council when it etched Rome into the papacy as the foundation of Peter’s primacy. But make no mistake, this separation is exactly what Sedevacantists are after.
Steve thinks he proved something because the papacy was in Avignon for a brief time. That the popes thought it was possible to move the papacy to Avignon is in itself contradictory but that’s a discussion for another time. My immediate response is that it is irrelevant that the papacy was transported to Avignon unless Steve is claiming that the Avignon popes ceased being bishops of Rome. If so, he better read this:
If anyone says that it is not by the institution of Christ the lord himself (that is to say, by divine law) that blessed Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole church; or that
the Roman pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.
Again, the papacy is bound to Rome not Avignon and nobody can change it:
There is nothing to prevent the decree of a general council, or the act of all peoples, from transferring the supreme pontificate from the bishop and city of Rome to another bishop and another city ~ Condemned. Syllabus of Errors
Next, some words on the subject of foundations is in order. In my book, I emphasize two principles:
The papacy is the foundation of the RCC
Rome is the foundation of the papacy
These principles are the reason why it is correct to say that the Diocese of Rome IS the Catholic Church. Naturally, Steve disagrees with this statement because it demolishes the Sedevacantists. If he agreed with this true statement he wouldn't make embarrassing statements like these:
“She (Church of Rome) is Mother of all other churches when there’s a pope.”
“The Church at Rome can’t defect if there’s a pope.”
"Rome can fall and has fallen because there’s no pope."
"When a pope dies, all those in charge in Rome can apostatize as they have done."
Here, Speray is confessing that the Holy See, the Church of Rome which is the permanent dwelling of Peter and his sacred primacy and the whole papal system, has defected. That should be the end of the Sedevacantists right? Wrong. Although Sedevacantists like Speray are well aware of the doctrine of indefectibility since they correctly use it at times against the Vatican II establishment and R & R traditionalists as need be, they must tweak the doctrine in such a way that while the Holy See defected, the true Church (themselves) didn’t. Remember, they do this by separating the office of Peter from its base. That is heresy. If the Holy See defected, and Speray just confessed that it did, then that's all she wrote for the Roman Catholic Church.
Speray's above assertions as written are ridiculous already but watch what happens when I re-arrange them while preserving the original meaning of his words:
“the Holy See is defectible during a papal interregnum.”
“the Holy See ceases to be the Mother of all Churches during a papal interregnum.”
"Rome can fall during a papal interregnum."
"The Holy See can apostatize during a papal interregnum."
Speray is teaching his disciples that the gift of indefectibility is conditional so that when a pope is not in office, the Church of Rome is defectible. Really Steve? Wow. Thankfully the Church never experienced a papal interregnum before or look at what could have happened. Truthfully, that is why Jesus Christ instituted Steve Speray. That way when a pope dies and the Holy See falls, defects, ceases to be the Mother of all Churches, and apostatizes, the Church still has Steve.
Seriously, the truth is that in Roman Catholicism, indefectibility is a divine protection given to the Church... of Rome... with or without a pope:
That which our lord Jesus Christ, the prince of shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, established in the blessed apostle Peter, for the continual salvation and permanent benefit of the church, must of necessity remain forever, by Christ’s authority, in the church which, founded as it is upon a rock, will stand firm until the end of time. ~ Vatican Council I Pastor Aeternus
But Speray may ask, how do we know the above refers specifically to the Church of Rome?”
To this day and forever he (the Blessed Apostle Peter) lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the holy Roman see, which he founded and consecrated with his blood  . ~ Vatican Council I Pastor Aeternus
But what if a usurper or antipope sits on the chair of Peter, couldn’t he cause the Roman Church to defect?
What the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the church which he once received .
~ Vatican Council I Pastor Aeternus
Which Church is that again? Remember, according to Steve Speray it’s not Rome.
For this reason it has always been necessary for every church–that is to say the faithful throughout the world–to be in agreement with the Roman church because of its more effective leadership. In consequence of being joined, as members to head, with that see, from which the rights of sacred communion flow to all, they will grow together into the structure of a single body  .~ Vatican Council I Pastor Aeternus
Without question, the RCC teaches the indefectibility of the See of Rome, not the Church in general. Remember, in the Roman system there is no papacy without Rome and no Catholic Church without the Papacy. And as strange as it may sound to guys like Steve, Rome really is part of the Roman Catholic Church, go figure. Moreover, the church teaches that all other particular churches can defect except Rome and now I hope it will be clear why that is so. This blows up Sedevacantism and the pretensions of Roman Catholicism in general, especially with Vatican II, so it is no surprise that Sedes like Steve re-work their teachings so that Rome can defect just as long as some Catholics remain somewhere in the world. But they are forced to reverse Catholic teaching because otherwise, as Steve said so well, “we have no Catholic Church for Sedevacantists to belong to…” BINGO! That’s exactly right Steve. That is what happens when an indefectible church defects and leaves the faithful with the impossible task of putting it back together without any of the essential parts.
This is really not all that difficult to understand once we take emotions, strong western biases, and the pride that accompanies traditional Catholicism out of the equation. Even still, some Sedes who should know better but who have vested interests in the proliferation of this illness never give up. If they can just find a way to disconnect the office of the papacy from Rome then they can claim they are in possession of it. “Look the Church didn’t defect, we’re over here or we’re over there.” Well, Steve Speray’s church functions like that but the Church of Rome doesn’t and that's all that really matters. Once you break communion with the Holy See you’re outside the Church. That is why I have written and will continue to write that the Sedevacantists lack the correct foundation to be the Roman Catholic Church. It is also why Sedevacantism is not really a position based on a long papal interregnum; it’s a position of defection. Once you understand this, Sedevacantism crumbles into dust.